Panic disorder is characterized by sudden attacks of terror, usually accompanied by a pounding heart, sweatiness, weakness, faintness, or dizziness. Because these attacks can occur at random, some people begin to restrict their activities out of fear of having a panic episode.
When such avoidance becomes severe, the condition has progressed to agoraphobia, which technically means ‘fear of open spaces,’ but can more accurately be referred to as a fear of fear itself. Agoraphobia involves intense fear and anxiety of any place or situation where escape might be difficult, leading to a debilitating avoidance of situations such as being alone outside of the home; traveling in a car, bus, or airplane; or being in a crowded area. Avoidance behaviors typically follow an increase in the frequency of panic attacks, making it important to seek treatment before the situation escalates.
Physical symptoms of panic disorder frequently include severe bouts of chest pain, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, or abdominal pain and typically occur without warning, causing intense fear and distress. During these attacks, people with panic disorder may flush or feel chilled; their hands may tingle or feel numb; and they may experience nausea, chest pain, or smothering sensations. Panic attacks usually produce a sense of unreality, a fear of impending doom, or a fear of losing control. It is not unusual for people suffering a panic attack to seek assistance in an emergency room, believing they are experiencing heart problems. Panic attacks can occur at any time, even during sleep. An attack usually peaks within 10 minutes, but some symptoms may last much longer. Panic disorder affects about 6 million American adults and is twice as common in women as men. The disorder often first appears in late adolescence or early adulthood, but not everyone who experiences panic attacks will develop panic disorder. Many people have just one attack and never have another. The tendency to develop panic attacks appears to be inherited.
The Anxiety and Agoraphobia Treatment Center offers a dual approach to the treatment of panic disorder and agoraphobia. After an initial evaluation, clients are assigned to the therapist best able to meet their needs. They are taught behavioral methods which focus on building skills to deal with panic and phobic anxiety, and the opportunity to practice these skills in actual anxiety-producing situations.
In vivo or exposure therapy has been proven to be the most effective technique for reducing anxiety symptoms. In addition to training in behavioral methods, emphasis is also placed on psychotherapy because interpersonal stress and conflict often precede and accompany this disorder. We believe that complete recovery depends upon the identification and satisfactory resolution of the conflicts unique to each individual.
New visual arts and story-telling project by McLean Hospital and the International OCD Foundation
Our 2017 "1MillionSteps4OCD" Fundraiser & Walk were great successes! Click to read more.
Breathing and CO2 Biofeedback for Panic Disorder available through AATC.
AATC Book Review Blog
A list of the upcoming dates for Support Groups
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